Card counting in blackjack is not illegal. There are no federal or state laws that prohibit the practice of counting cards in your head.
Casinos don’t like when players count cards because the tactic helps you make more statistically sound choices, which can overpower the house edge, as opposed to making purely random choices, which allows the house to win as intended.
You can only be arrested or charged for counting cards if you’re using external devices, apps, or team members to do so, all of which may be considered cheating and a criminal offense.
Despite what you may have heard or seen in the movies, card counting is legal because it’s not actually a form of cheating that someone can be punished for. In fact, counting cards in blackjack is just a way to track the probability of different decisions and their effectiveness in helping you win a hand. It’s not cheating by any legal definition or otherwise.
There are multiple card counting systems players can use to keep track of the “count,” or the number of high cards versus low cards in a blackjack deck. Knowing whether a table’s deck is trending upward or downward can help you make more informed choices about hitting, standing, splitting, or surrendering.
Let’s settle the dispute about card counting being illegal, explore why casinos despise the practice so much, and discover what happens if you’re “caught” counting cards at your favorite casino.
So, Is Card Counting Illegal?
No, counting cards is not illegal, meaning you can’t get arrested for doing it. However, it may be discouraged in some places because casinos do have the right to ban you from the table or ask you to leave the casino if they suspect you’re counting cards, whether they can prove it or not.
The reason this practice has been widely contested as a “legal” tactic is because it technically jeopardizes the house edge and makes the game less fair for the casino where you’re playing. But there are no laws that prohibit counting cards in your head while playing at a casino — not even at a brick-and-mortar venue or online casino in New Jersey.
On the other hand, using an external device to count cards, like a smartphone app, and calculate your advantage could fall under illegal activities per federal, state, or local laws where the casino is located. Devices that help the player win and other forms of cheatingareconsidered illegal, and you can be arrested. In addition, card counting as a team of people could also put you in a legal mess. Think of the infamous card counting team from the movie “21” and the real-life MIT students the film is based on.
Is Card Counting Considered Cheating?
That depends on who you ask. If you were to ask an experienced blackjack player who uses card counting, they would say they’re simply using math to make more statistically sound decisions. Which is true!
Now if you ask the same question to a casino, they may try to pass it off as cheating because they believe the tactic helps the player better overcome the random odds of the game. But does that actually mean card counting is a form of cheating?
No, because card counting in blackjack doesn’t actually change the outcome — it just helps players understand the likelihood of winning based on their options to split, hit, stand, double down, or surrender. Therefore, it shouldn’t be considered cheating.
However, when you throw card counting apps or other team members into the mix, then the line between cheating and legitimate tactics becomes blurred. That’s also when the police can get involved.
What Happens if You Get Caught Counting Cards at the Blackjack Table?
Again, that depends. Some states — like Nevada — allow casinos to stop players whom they believe are counting cards in blackjack, while other states — like New Jersey — prevent casinos from discriminating against players based on presumed card counting skills, even if tell-tale signs of card counting are detected.
If you’re accused of card counting at a Las Vegas casino, you may be asked to leave, and the casino staff are likely to claim that, since the casino is private property, they can ask you to leave the table (or the casino) for any reason they deem appropriate. If they suspect you of counting cards, you may be barred from cashing in your chips, too. In this case, it’s best to comply to avoid making a scene and incurring any actual arrestable offenses, like trespassing or disorderly conduct.
If you’re accused of card counting at a New Jersey casino, like one in Atlantic City, you cannot be banned from the blackjack tables. The same is true if you’re actually “caught” using this blackjack strategy. That’s because there are state laws that prohibit casinos from “discriminating” against players based on skill or a lucky streak.
There have even been reports of casinos attempting to detain players they’re accusing of card counting, which the casino is not allowed to do unless there is evidence of actual cheating per the state’s legal definition. Some casinos may try to ask for your ID or take your photo so as to enforce a ban or communicate the existence of a card counter to other area casinos. If this happens to you, you may want to consult a legal professional.
How Do Casinos Prevent and Catch Card Counting?
Many casinos around the world employ high-tech surveillance systems that pay close attention to players on a lucky streak, especially at blackjack tables due to the likelihood of card counting. In addition, they may have casino cheating experts on staff to identify signs of actual cheating and discourage tactics they’d like to consider cheating (i.e. counting cards).
New Jersey casinos are known to shuffle together four decks at a single blackjack table, which makes tracking the count from hand to hand — which is the whole point of counting cards — really hard to do. This massive deck option is even in the state’s administrative code for the rules of blackjack.
All of this is to say that the practice isn’t really encouraged in many places, and there may be venues looking to stop counters in their tracks to protect the casino’s financial interests.
Yes, you can count cards while playing online blackjack at an online casino. This practice is still not considered cheating at online New Jersey casinos, so it’s a valid strategy for helping you make the most of your blackjack play. However, online casinos may have online blackjack games whose software is programmed to shuffle the deck after each hand, which makes it increasingly difficult to keep the tally and use the count to make your decision.
Is Card Counting Allowed at Tribal Casinos?
There are multiple Native American tribes in the U.S. that own and run casinos, including those located on reservations. It’s important to note that some states leave the regulation of cheating or advantage gambling — under which counting cards would fall — to the tribal casino’s management.
That means card counting and cheating at a tribal casino may not be handled the same way as in other casinos. In fact, you may be met with more severe punishment, such as a ban from the casino or withheld winnings. How this situation is handled can vary from casino to casino and tribe to tribe. What’s more, outside police are often not involved, and players’ legal protections aren’t the same due to tribal sovereignty laws.
Because of this, it may be best to practice your card counting strategy in a casino that’s more open to this kind of blackjack play. Now that you know that card counting in blackjack isn’t illegal, you might consider learning how to count cards and start mastering this advantageous strategy. Then, try your new strategy while playing online blackjack at your favorite online New Jersey casino to increase your bankroll and refine your skills.
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